Editor's note: This is a long one, but well worth reading through — see how Brian's love of video game music ultimately led him to be Twin Galaxies' Jet Moto champion. It wasn't an easy ride. -Demian
Part 1: The Inspiration
Ever since I first heard the opening seven notes of the Super Mario Bros. theme, I've been a huge fan of video game music (I saw Video Games Live last fall and it absolutely rocked my world). I always used to enjoy listening to the music as I was playing, but before too long, I was doing stuff like hooking up my consoles' audio output to my stereo and making mix tapes of my favorite tunes.
As I grew up, the jonesing only got worse, and I kept looking for game music any place I could get it. When I first arrived at college, the online MIDI scene was just getting into full swing, but the music quality was pretty poor and I needed something better. Luckily, since I went to school in Boston, I was only a quick subway ride away from Cambridge's Harvard Square, where several anime shops carried the game soundtrack CDs that have been commonplace in Japan for decades.
After spending an obscene amount of money for imported original soundtracks and remix albums for a few years, I finally happened upon the world of fan remixes when I discovered OverClocked ReMix.
Not only were the songs fantastic and endlessly varied, they were completely free and 100% legal! Hooked, I started downloading every familiar song I could find to my work PC (I was cheap and didn't have internet at home at the time), sucking OCR dry and moving on to other sites like VGMix and Dwelling of Duels.
I kept scouring the 'net for game music any place I could find it, and by mid-2008, I had built up quite a collection — which is, of course, when I got laid off.
I had previously pulled a large chunk of my OCR collection off the machine to my computers at home, but in the short time I had to vacate the premises after losing my job, bringing everything back was just not feasible.
When I found a new job a little over a month later, spending the long hours to re-download hundreds of songs was just not going to fly — so I did without as best as I could. I made do with my iPod, tried Pandora for a few days…but nothing really stuck.
I had gotten used to working with a steady stream of game music at my ears, and after 11 months, I needed to find a replacement.
Enter Rainwave. An Internet radio station affiliated with OverClocked ReMix, Rainwave has three separate streams to choose from: V-Wave, a stream dominated by techno and chiptunes; OCR Radio, a stream of OCR's fan remixes; and Rainwave, a stream of original soundtracks and official remixes.
I quickly took a shine to the latter, as I'd been listening to the OCR mixes for years, and there were some forgotten classics on Rainwave that I was really enjoying.
Then, one day a few weeks ago, I was whiling away the afternoon when I suddenly perked up…and as a lively track of surf rock hit my eardrums, I was instantly transported 11 years into the past.
Near the end of my freshman year of college, desperate for a new gaming machine and short on cash, I had taken my Super NES and my entire collection of SNES games down to the Software Etc. in Boston's Prudential Center and traded everything in for a PlayStation and a copy of Wild Arms. (Yes, I still regard it as one of the stupidest things I've ever done.)
With the PlayStation as the only game machine I had left, I started to build up my collection of games for my new machine and picked up a racer called Jet Moto.
Part 2: Ancient History
Widely regarded as Sony's answer to Wave Race 64, Jet Moto is a futuristic "xtreme sports" racing game that takes place on hoverbikes — it would have been a motorcycle game, but the developers wanted to give it a motocross feel by making each race's field 20-riders strong, and didn't want to waste the PlayStation's limited resources by rendering 40 wheels.
While some may have been turned off by the shameless advertisements plastered over every inch of the game, or the less-than-stellar graphics when compared to Wave Race, I was instantly hooked on the unique hover-based physics system, challenging courses, and ridiculously pinpoint controls.
After discovering how much I liked the game, I began playing it in nearly every spare minute I had, completely monopolizing the TV in the apartment I shared with my three roommates (luckily, it was my TV). As fortune would have it, my roomies got interested in the game as well, and many a night was filled with the banter of two of us going head-to-head.
We pushed each other, watched each other practice, stole racing lines, and generally made each other better at the game than we ever would have been otherwise.
Fortunately, as the only long-time console gamer in the group, I was consistently the best. The other guys would occasionally steal a race from me if I had a bad run or if they forced me to choose a different character, but when I played as Gunner, my preferred rider, I was practically unstoppable.
I could routinely win every race in a full 10-track season against the CPU on Master difficulty, and the more they challenged me, the better I got. We had a ton of fun with Jet Moto for about a year, but as always, new games and systems were coming out all the time, and we moved on.
But when I heard those tunes coming through my headphones a few weeks ago — the ones that had seared themselves into my brain over hours and hours of play — I was inspired to reach back to those days one more time.
That night, when I got home, I pulled the Jet Moto CD out of the binder where I keep all of my old disc-based games, slipped it into the PS3, and as the title screen popped up on my TV, it felt like I had never stopped playing.
Getting back into the swing of things, I chose Gunner once again and loaded up Joyride, the opening track. Even before the race started, my itching fingers jumped back to their familiar positions — my thumb planted on the X button, which served as the accelerator, and my index finger sneaking up to press down on Triangle, the turbo button.
I could sense my old rhythm returning with every lap, and by the time I finished, with a time around 3:20, I was feeling 10 years younger. And that's when I had that fateful thought: "Hey," I said to myself, "I wonder what the world record for this game is over at Twin Galaxies?"
Part 3: Doin' Work
Twin Galaxies, for those who don't know, is *the* electronic game record holding organization, as made famous in the 2007 documentary The King Of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. I enjoyed the movie immensely when I first saw it, and was really hoping that Steve Wiebe would be able to retake the Donkey Kong world record at this year's E3 (disappointed, of course, when his final game ended with a kill screen just a few thousand points short).
I hopped over to the website, found the Jet Moto index page on the scoreboard, and looked for the Joyride record. "Let's see, the time I just put up was right around 3:20," I mused, "and the world record is…3:31????"
I stared at the screen, blinking in disbelief. I was 11 seconds better than the world record without even trying? I knew I was good, but this was ridiculous! Bemused to all hell, I wrote down the records on the rest of the tracks, and resolved to see just what in the world was going on here.
Grabbing my PS2 from the shelf where I had left it disconnected, I brought it over to my desktop and hooked it up to the USB video capture device I had bought a couple years prior, when I was writing a "Let's Play" thread on the Something Awful forums and needed screen caps of Panzer Dragoon Saga.
Loading up my old save, I played a few more tracks, and noticed the same thing on about 8 out of the 10 of them – even 8 years out of practice, I was beating the world record times left and right. At that point, I could barely contain my excitement – all I needed to do was capture some video of myself playing, and I'd be a world record holder!
(You didn't think it would be that easy, did you?)
Snag #1: Initially, all I had needed my capture device for was screencaps — since I didn't want to break the bank, I bought a cheap $30 dongle at CompUSA instead of splurging for a full-on video capture card.
It was all well and good for when I just needed pictures, but when I started trying to record my Jet Moto videos, I discovered that the video capture utility shrunk me down into a tiny 320×240 box — not exactly ideal conditions for precision racing, especially since I normally keep my desktop resolution at 1680×1050!
I eventually figured out that reducing my resolution would make the viewable area a decent size, but it still ended up being pretty small.
Snag #2: As shown in The King of Kong, Twin Galaxies has pretty strict standards when it comes to what they'll accept. (It's actually not true that they accepted Billy Mitchell's grainy videotape as a world record after Wiebe got the killscreen at Funspot — Mitchell later reclaimed the record playing live.)
When recording console games, you need to capture five seconds of dead air before powering on the machine, record the entire bootup process, verify that you're using the correct options, and only *then* can you start actually making your attempt.
In my Jet Moto attempts, it took about a minute and a half at the start of every recording session to capture all that, meaning that after finishing one set of attempts, I would completely cool off before I could try again — most of the time, my first attempt after a reboot lasted about five seconds before I screwed up and needed to restart the race.
On top of that, there was the issue of how I would eventually get the videos over to Twin Galaxies. Since I can be incredibly impatient at times, there was no way that I'd be able to survive the wait of mailing off a CD or DVD to the appropriate referee, and after finding several references to Rapidshare on the TG forums, I figured that would be my best bet.
Unfortunately, for free usage, the max limit for a file that you can upload is 200 MB, which my videos would hit at about 12 minutes — so before every attempt during one of my sessions I had to make sure that if I set the record, I wouldn't lose it because the file was too big!
Snag #3: Finally, there was the little matter of actually setting the records themselves. Since I was far ahead of the current records, the only standards I could really hold myself to were my own, so I was more racing against myself than anyone else.
It became the biggest problem I faced — once I had set a time on a particular track, how was I supposed to know whether or not that was really the record? How long was I going to do this, anyway?
At first, I went about it as best as I could, setting times that I thought were pretty damned good. But on one fateful day, looking for any final edge that I could get, I went to GameFAQs to see if there were any tips or tricks that I had missed, and found one lonely FAQ there.
As I started reading, I discovered that the guy who wrote it was *really* obsessive — the file isn't a FAQ so much as it is a dissertation; he ran all 10 races with all 20 riders and then analyzed the data to determine the best riders, styles, and teams.
It's an imposing document, but I read it with growing interest — especially when I got to the part where he listed his best times on each track, half of which were beating mine by several seconds!
With something to really shoot for now, I went back to those tracks with renewed effort, even going so far as to — *GASP* — choose a character other than Gunner (it was necessary to set the record on Joyride).
Determined, I went over my techniques on each track with a fine-toothed comb: I watched previous runs that I had recorded, compared my checkpoint times on each lap, looked for places that I could improve, and found out the optimal spots to use each lap's four precious turbo boosts.
Finally, after about a week solid of playing roughly four hours a night, I was satisfied. I had aborted countless runs due to the randomness of making it through the 20-rider field on each race without getting knocked off the bike or bumped off course (a tall task, especially on the closed-loop "suicide courses" that sling you head-on into the pack twice a lap), and squeezed every second I could out of those courses.
I managed to beat most of the best times posted in the FAQ, and was close enough to the other few (that were achieved during practice runs with no CPU riders) that I figured all was well. I wrote up my submission form, uploaded the clips to Rapidshare, and started what I thought would simply be the wait until I was confirmed as the world record holder.
(You didn't think that would be easy either, did you?)
Part 4: Trial By Fire
As I mentioned previously, I can be rather impatient when I get excited about something — over the years, I've earned more than one rebuke from my dad about my need for instant gratification. Still, it's an impulse I've never quite been able to control, especially when I'm waiting for feedback on something and don't get any.
For the first few days after my submission, I was being pretty good — I managed to hold myself to checking the Twin Galaxies site for updates every hour or so. But when nothing appeared after two days of waiting, I started to wonder.
Curious, I wrote an email to one of the referees, asking how long it usually takes to get a score verified — but oddly, even though the submission form on the site said I would receive a copy of the email I'd sent, I got nothing. Even more confused, I attempted to create an account on the Twin Galaxies forums, but never got the email to activate my account. What the hell was going on?
After a few minutes of utter confusion, I finally figured out that my spam filter was catching all the mail from Twin Galaxies and immediately deleting it. Fixing the problem, I activated my forum account, posted my question, and got a quick answer from one of the referees that it could take from a few days to as long as a month.
I shrugged and decided to just go back about my business; but the next morning, I got an email that I never expected to see in a thousand years.
The rules state No Cheat Codes Allowed ("Enable all Tracks" isn't considered a code and may be used). After checking one of your submissions, I can see that codes were used. This one will be disqualified, along with any others that cheats were used.
Twin Galaxies Senior Referee"
Cheat codes? CHEAT CODES??? I never used cheat codes, and certainly wouldn't have been stupid enough to use them in a world record attempt! Hell, I didn't remember what they were or even what they did! How in the world was I being accused of using cheat codes???
Then, with a sinking feeling, I realized what had happened. See, when you win a full 10-race season on Professional difficulty or higher, the game rewards you by revealing one of nine different cheat codes, depending on what team you won with. After that, the codes are "enabled" — meaning that if you enter them on the title screen, they're active for whatever races you run after that.
Normally they're *not* enabled, and entering the codes when they're not enabled does nothing — a protection put in to ensure that people can't use the codes without beating the game first.
The game lets you know this by showing a "Codes Enabled" speech bubble coming out of the mouth of the character shown on the title screen, and since I was loading my old saved game from college with all the tracks unlocked, the speech bubble was showing up and the ref must have interpreted that to mean that not only were the codes enabled, they were also active.
"But cheats don't get saved," I thought to myself. "They have to be entered on the title screen after you turn the system on for them to be in effect — there's a 'cha-ching' noise when you enter one correctly, and you can plainly see that on all my videos that doesn't happen!"
Fingers shaking with shock, I feebly typed out a response to that effect, only to receive another email later that night that confirmed my fears — the ref was convinced that the bubble only showed up when the codes were active, staying resident in saved games.
Adding insult to injury, he backed up his claim by noting how on the submission of mine that he'd checked out the beginning of, Blackwater Falls, the current record holder had achieved "near-perfection" with a time of 2:45.4, whereas the time I had submitted was 2:33.3.
"If he were to be beaten on that track, it would likely be by 100ths of a second to one second — two seconds probably isn't even possible. Your time is over 12 seconds faster…see what I mean?"
Under normal circumstances, sure, I would have seen what he meant. But, on this particular track, there just so happens to be the only hidden shortcut in the entire game, which neither the ref in question nor the world record holder knew anything about. At one particularly nasty stretch of hairpin turns, there's a "Plantation House" sitting on the corner, and if you drive straight through the front doors, you can bust through them and completely cut those turns off.
Which probably saves, oh, I don't know, four seconds per lap of a three lap race. Anybody want to do the math?
At the end of the second email, the ref suggested that I create a new saved game with just the "Enable All Tracks" code used and go for the records again, to which I said to myself, "the HELL with that!" Did these people seriously think that I was going to head back and try to re-set all 10 records again, when there's only about a 15% chance of making it through the pack cleanly on the first lap, even *before* taking into account any user error later in the race?
Instead, I resolved to clear my name, going so far as to record a new video where I:
- enabled one of the cheats and disabled turbos
- using the cheat, put up a Joyride time that was nine seconds faster than the world record I had submitted
- saved the game
- power cycled the PS2 without stopping the video
- loaded that newly saved game
- and ran the same turbo-less race again with the same character, only 45 seconds slower
I then wrote a lengthy email explaining in excruciating detail exactly what was going on, even going so far as list every single cheat code in the game and explaining how I couldn't have been using any of them in that video (if I could prove it), or in my other videos (if I couldn't). I sent it off late last Monday night, and figured that would be the end of it.
But all I got back from the refs on Tuesday was a brief comment that what I had written was interesting, that there was the possibility that they were wrong in their assumption, and that they'd check out the video when they had the time — which wasn't nearly good enough to soothe my damaged pride.
So when I got home that night, I resolved to settle this thing once and for all, and decided to go for the absolute kill as far as proving myself went. This time around, I yanked my memory card out of the slot entirely and rerecorded myself playing on two of the three default tracks that are unlocked out of the box — Joyride and, conveniently, Blackwater Falls.
I didn't load a saved game, I didn't use the unlock all tracks code, I didn't do jack — I just went straight from power-up to playing. I figured if these wouldn't be considered clean runs, nothing would.
With my dander most definitely up, I was able to best both of my earlier times. I brought Joyride down from a 3:11.1 to a 3:10.7, and my "clearly impossible" 2:33.3 on Blackwater Falls to a sizzling 2:27.7, over five and a half seconds faster.
After sending those submissions in, I got one more email on Wednesday night saying simply that my scores would be verified and posted soon — and here we are now, where I can say with all honesty that I am currently the best Jet Moto player in the world.
But really, where does that leave me? After all, we're talking about a relatively obscure, 13-year-old, butt-ugly "xtreme" racer from the early days of 3D with dated, pixelated advertisements for Pepsi World and Fruit-A-Burst gum splashed everywhere.
However, I must say that in my opinion, biased as it is, it's better to be able to say you're the best in the world at something than not, regardless of how meaningless that accomplishment may actually be.
Besides, records are made to be broken, right? It's possible that somebody will see my times and double their own efforts — and if I do get beaten, I might try to take back my scores and I might not.
But, if you'll excuse me for now, I have to get going — I ran a little experiment the other day, and found out that I'm absolutely crushing the current records on some of the easier tracks in Stunt Race FX.